When I’m in “a mood” there is nothing I like better or feel is more helpful to get out of it than going out into the woods walking or quietly sitting. The text from today’s Book of Joel Chapter1 calls it “wilderness.” There is unfortunately, less wilderness now then there was then. It hurts to watch forests die due to wildfires or the destruction of our natural environment by hurricanes & tornados. In Joel, we hear the laments of that same feeling by many who lived in his community. Scholars do not know when Joel actually lived, though some feel the work was written later in the Persian era (539-333 BCE) because there are references and images from a much later era than other prophets. Nothing is known of the prophet himself except his father’s name. He writes in v.19 "To you, O Lord, I cry. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flames have burned all the trees of the field." It’s not a good time for Joel. Likewise, there is an awful lot of damage that has been done to our planet recently due to disaster and as we discussed last week, it is up to us to clean up that damage and help each other recover. We, are the cleaner uppers, the redeemers of environmental disaster. I know you all contributed to the basket for the rescue efforts of the UCC Disaster Response Team and the work done by CWS. Seeing your generous contributions last Sunday was great and you are asked to contribute again today and next week, then we will send off a check in the exact amount of the collected funds. We do not keep any of it. You are indeed Jesus’ hands, feet and heart in the world! Thank you again for your generous spirit.
In the New Testament reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans today, the Disciple is trying to shore up the spirits of the faithful who are feeling down and out, cast into the wilderness of faith. Paul was a good counselor because he listened and understood how Jesus’ fledgling crew felt lost and he did not put them down for it, but rather cheers them on. He writes; “24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope! For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” I suppose the people he was addressing were aggravated. They had been persecuted by the Roman Government for many years, so by this point they were likely tired and frustrated. Paul says don’t give up! Never give up! It is good advice and Paul was all about trying again and again throughout his travels to convince people of the power of a redemptive God through Jesus Christ. He knew the tendency of human beings to become agitated in the face of oppression.
Nevertheless, he was committed to convincing the others that “26 Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” By that I wonder if he was saying the Spirit is sighing deeply, or was he referring to us and our sighs? Perhaps Paul wanted others to believe that even in our times of depression or lament which we are not able to express in words, God in the form of the Spirit, steps in. V. 27 reads “And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit,” To think that our marvelous, incredible creator of the universe is also one who searches our personal hearts! What do you think? Does that touch something deep inside of you? Sometimes in the midst of daily living I feel as if we are all too busy to touch one another’s hearts and I am the first one to admit it. God apparently feels that reaching out to touch the heart of individuals is of utmost importance, so that should be our cue. When you pray, whether in the wilderness or just in your own bedroom, do you pray for others? You know what? Lately, I have been meaning to pray about our planet. I know there are people who are skeptics about climate change and that is their prerogative, but it seems to me there is an awful lot of data supporting the idea that we humans are instrumental in climate change. So, how do we pray for that? Here is a beautiful prayer I found in our curriculum:
Today is the day of creation. Any day that you choose to act, choose to hope, is the day of creation – a day when anything is possible. The future is dark, but it is in darkness that babies are conceived, that seeds sprout, that death turns into life. Celebrate the darkness, because in it may be hidden new opportunities, and new life. Celebrate life. Celebrate your victories. And may the God of hope, the God of second chances, the God of resurrection bless you with strength and courage today, and all the days of your life. Amen.
Before the passage that was read from Joel, the impact of locusts and drought on the land had been described in Joel 1:1-4
1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel: 2 Hear this, O elders,4 What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.
According to scholars, the locusts could be a metaphor for invasions by the Assyrians, Babylonians or Persians. What in our world is a metaphor for the devastating effects locusts and drought had on Joel’s world? Here are a few ways researchers think that our climate might be compared. As sea levels continue to rise due to global warming, (it increases) the risk of storm surge, the high floods caused by a storm pushing water onshore. Those floodwaters are responsible for much of the damage left by hurricanes in coastal cities. A 2013 study found that the risk of a Hurricane Katrina-level storm surge rose 2-7 times for every 1.8 degree F increase in temperature. As the planet warms, the atmosphere can hold more moisture. So, when it rains, it really pours. “Hurricane Harvey type of rainfalls will become noticeably more frequent as the century goes on,” said Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT. “Water is the big killer in hurricanes, not wind, water does most of the damage.” Some research shows that the number of weaker storms, may go down because of climate change. But the strongest Category 3, 4 & 5 storms, will likely become more frequent. “We do think the incidence of the high-intensity events is going up, and that’s what matters for society,” Emanuel said.
Then there’s drought. California is no stranger to drought. Because weather cycles known as El Niño and La Niña tend to scramble the overall trend a little, it’s a challenge to make direct connections between droughts and climate change. However, there are a few connections researchers can draw. Thanks to global warming, which is raising the Earth’s temperature, water evaporates out of the soil and into the air, sucking away moisture from plants that rely on it. This potentially helps increase drought conditions, said a climate modeler at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Even if tot
al rainfall stays the same, higher temperatures will likely drive down the average moisture level in the soil, leaving less water for living things. Climate change might mean that subtropical high pressure systems are likely to get stronger and larger, keeping moist air from traveling upward in the atmosphere, where it can condense and eventually fall to the earth as rain or snow. By gaining in size and strength, those systems may become even more effective at blocking precipitation. “This large-scale feature … in the Pacific Ocean is one of the important factors why a lot of climate models, when they project into the future, show drying in the southwestern United States.”
Climate science is a mystery to me - I am just a pastor. It does arouse my curiosity however and like others, I’m not above confessing to concern about the future of our beautiful planet. Skeptics like to say that scientists don’t agree on climate change, but the consensus is overwhelming. A whopping 97% of climate scientists share the view that climate change is happening now and that human activity is to blame. The good news then is, we are in the position to reverse it, right?
Listen to this curriculum resource translation of Paul’s letter which the kids are learning today. It is quite easy to understand and beautifully written. “Dear friends, we are all groaning in pain because we feel the hurt in our world. It seems all the world is in pain and filled with sadness. This will not last forever! God has plans for good things for all creation. When things are hard, it can be hard to wait, but we are not alone as we wait. We have each other, and we have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will comfort and help us as we pray and wait, even helping us to know for what we should pray. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what we need and prays for us with deep sighs that speak right into God’s heart. May we all pray that through us, God brings healing and happiness to all.”